SUN Hockey Pool

Oiler not your typical rookie

DEREK VAN DIEST, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:28 AM ET

Physically, Chris Vande Velde is not your typical rookie.

Having spent four years in school at the University of North Dakota, the native of Moorehead, Minn., is just as big and as strong as his opponents.

That physical maturity has served Vande Velde well at his first training camp with the Edmonton Oilers, having scored a goal in each of the two exhibition games he’s played.

“I feel like I’m mature and just as strong as everyone else out there,” Vande Velde said. “That’s huge, it’s playing to my favour and helping me get some puck possession and some goals. It’s definitely an advantage.”

Selected in the fourth round — 97th overall — by the Oilers in the 2005 NHL entry draft, Vande Velde scored the Oilers’ fifth goal in the 8-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday.

He also scored a goal and added an assist in the Oilers’ 3-2 win over the Canucks last Wednesday.

“Obviously things have gone pretty well,” Vande Velde said. “I’ve had some good linemates, we’ve been grinding it out and got some breaks. I’ve been burying the puck and am doing what I’m asked. If it happens to go in, it goes in.

“(On Sunday) I just got a pass and carried it into the zone. I went in on a two-on-one with Zack Stortini. I was looking for a pass, but I saw nothing was there so I just shot it and was able to get it past the goalie.”

Last season, Vande Velde had 16 goals and 25 assists in 42 games with UND – the most productive season of his university career.

Following his graduation, the six-foot-two, 204-pound centre played a pair of games with the Springfield Falcons, collecting an assist.

Having been in school, Vande Velde was not eligible to attend Oilers training camp prior to this season.

“I didn’t know much about training camp before getting here,” he said. “But I knew it would be a battle and a grind, which it has been, but it’s been fun as well. It’s a great group of guys and the coaching staff is really good. It’s been everything I’ve expected and more.”

Vande Velde considered leaving school early in order to join the Oilers last season. However after some consultation, he decided to complete his fourth year.

“Everyone thought it would be best if I stayed one more year, so I did and it didn’t hurt me,” he said. “I think I grew as a player and became a better player as well.

“I definitely feel a little more experienced. I’ve played a lot of games and even the couple of games I played in Springfield last season were good. It helped me get my feet wet, as did rookie camp this year. All those things helped and they have definitely helped me camp-wise.”

So far, Vande Velde’s play has helped him survive the first few rounds of cuts.

On Monday, the Oilers let go of six players, bringing their roster down to 37 players.

Vande Velde, 23, who will probably still start the year with the Oilers AHL affiliate in Oklahoma City, has earned himself at least another look.

“Chris is a guy that just pushes it forward, gets it deep and goes into the dirty areas,” said Oilers head coach Tom Renney. “He’s very responsible, he understands the game and programs well.

“As players like him gain experience in these games, it becomes increasingly difficult to suggest why they shouldn’t be here.”


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